The Twilight of the American Enlightenment -- The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief by George M. Marsden, BasicBooks '14, $26.99, 219 pages, ASIN #0465030106. Index, notes, no bibliography, b&w images sprinkled through text.
Most Americans of retirement age remember the 1950s weekly TV program, Father Knows Best, which trumpeted the advantages of postwar America, when Dad went to work and Mom stayed home, when bulldozers were busy helping build the next suburban subdivision, and teenagers grooved to an endless array of rock 'n' roll music.
"In many ways," writes author George M. Mardsden in his Introduction, "the mid-twentieth century was a time of tremendous optimism. Americans were constantly being reminded that theirs was the best nation on earth....Probably no one quite believed all the hype, but still, in many ways, things (and it was especially things) were better than they had ever been.....
"As Alan Ehrenhalt, author of The Lost City, put it in that engaging look back at growing up in Chicago, it was 'not that the 1950s were a golden age....but that they were a time when life as it was seemed so much better than life might have been.' Everyone could remember or had heard of enduring the hardships of the Depression, or could look back to or imagine coming of age in 1943, when boys were sent off to an incredibly grim world war."
Against this backdrop, Marsden demonstrates why the values of the '50s "would prove hollow when buffeted by the widespread upheavals of the 1960s. Liberal consensus ideals eventually gave way to multiculturalism even as the mainline Protestant establishment collapsed. Into the resulting cultural vacuum rushed the leaders of the religious right who proposed to reestablish a consensus of American enlightened ideals, but now based on the beliefs of evangelicalism and other conservative religious."
In conclusion, the author concludes that both America's left and right wings proved unable to provide for religious diversity in public life -- "a failure that continues to define American culture and politics today."
Author George M. Marsden is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History Emeritus at Notre Dame and has written many books, largely on American history. He lives in Grand Rapids, MI.
Tradition in the Twenty-First Century -- Locating the Role of the Past in the Present, Edited by Trevor J. Blank & Robert Glenn Howard, Utah State University Press '13, 225 pages, ASIN #0874218993. Index, about the contributors, notes follow each essay, unillustrated.
From the back cover:
"In Tradition in the Twenty-First Century, eight diverse contributors explore the role of tradition in contemporary folkloristics. For more than a century, folklorists have been interested in locating sources of tradition and accounting for the conceptual boundaries of tradition, but in the modern era, expanded means of communication, research, and travel, along with globalized cultural and economic independence, have complicated these pursuits. Tradition is thoroughly embedded in both modern life and at the center of folklore studies, and a modern understanding of tradition cannot be fully realized without a thoughtful consideration of the past's role in shaping the present.
"Emphasizing how tradition adapts, survives, thrives, and either mutates or remains stable in today's modern world, the contributors pay specific attention to how traditions now resist or expedite dissemination and adoption by individuals and communities. This complex and intimate portrayal of tradition in the twenty-first century offers a comprehensive overview of the folkloristic and popular conceptualizations of tradition from the past to the present and presents a thoughtful assessment and projection of how 'tradition' will fare in years to come."
About the editors:
Trevor J. Blank is assistant professor of communications at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He earned his Ph.D. in American studies from the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg, and an MA at Indiana University's Folklore Institute. Robert Glenn Howard is professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His teaching and publications span several fields, including communication, folklore studies, journalism, and religious studies.
Assassination -- A History of Political Murder by Lindsay Porter, Overlook '10 in oversized format on glossy stock, $35, 191 pages, ASIN #0500251584. Index, list of illustrations, notes, scores of b&w and color glossy images sprinkled through text.
Ask an American to name a political assassination and, dollars to donuts, s/he will cite that of President John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald 50 years ago last November. But as historian Lindsay Porter writes, high-profile political assassinations occurred as far back in history as ancient times and aren't restricted to elected officials.
Among the killings she profiles are:
"Julius Caesar, the most famous political murder in history, and what it meant for the Roman Empire.
"Thomas Beckett, a sacrilegious killing of the head of the Church of England in his own sanctuary, the first assassination of its kind.
"Henry IV, and the first modern assassination.
"Jean-Paul Marat, whose bathtub stabbing spurred the French Revolution.
"Archduke Franz Ferdinand; how the First World War was started by a secret society of assassins.
"Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Vlla; how the public turned outlaws into icons.
"John F. Kennedy, a grieving nation and conspiracy theories."
Author and art historian Lindsay Porter has published widely on conspiracy theories and secret societies. She is the author of Who Are the Illuminati? and is a contributor to Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia.